Islamic seminaries are the most affective institution in propagating the teachings of the Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt, and have moreover triggered a unique culture in the scientific, social, and even political spheres.
The city of Kazemayn is situated northwest and eight kilometers of Baghdad. After the completion of the city of Baghdad by Mansur Abbasi in the year 149 AH, he commanded a graveyard be built north of the city for him and his family. This graveyard was later known as the “Quraysh” graveyard or “the graveyard of Bani Hashim.” After the martyrdom of Imam Kazem (a) and Imam Jawad (a), their holy bodies were buried in this very graveyard; and it was this event that led the Shi‘as to travel to this city to visit these two Imams. Through building their homes, the first towards making the city of Kazemayn were taken.
After Baghdad was defeated by Mu’izz al-Dawla in 334 AH, the city of Kazemayn was rebuilt and reconstructed by him. He constructed a big courtyard around the holy shrines and built small chambers around the courtyard for Shi‘a scholars and seminarians to reside in. On the eastern side, he constructed a partition (maqsurah) for publicly-held classes and named it “madras.” One of his other initiatives was expanding Buratha Mosque and constructing an Islamic center beside it. Buratha is the name of a mosque with an ancient history situated between Kazemayn and Baghdad. The training of great scholars like Shaykh Mufid took place there.
Another personality which played a role in the expansion and development of the academic environment in Kazemayn was al-Nasir Li Dinillah, an Abbasid Caliph. Due to his services to the Shi‘a faith and his kindness towards the Shi‘a, in several historical records, some have claimed he was Shi‘a. In 608 AH he commanded – just like the system in Baghdad – that academic discussions take place in the chambers in the holy shrine of Imam Musa al-Kazem (a) and it was during the same time that he ordered Masnad Ahmad bin Hanbal be taught by a Shi‘a scholar named Safi al-Din Ma’bad bin Muhamamd Musawi. The first topic taught by him in this book and in this location was Masnad Abu Bakr and the event of Fadak. Likewise his Shi‘a vizier, Mu’yid al-Din Qummi, made efforts in developing the infrastructure of Kazemayn, some of whom were building a school and ‘House of the Qur’an’ (Dar al-Qur’an) for Shi‘a orphans and Alawites beside the tomb of Imam Musa bin Ja’far (as) to learn how to write and read the Qur’an.
Because of its close proximity to the Baghdad seminary, the Islamic seminary of Kazemayn was influenced by the scholars and great intellects of that city and greatly affected by the city of Baghdad’s academic expansion and decline; nevertheless, in the recent centuries, many great scholars have resided in this city. Through teaching and training seminarians in their offices and homes across the city, they have made brighter the academic status of Kazemayn in comparison with other Shi‘a seminaries.
Some of the aforementioned cases are:
- Residence of Sayyid Muhammad Ali Hibat al-Din Shahristani; Bayt Sayyid Muhsin ‘Araji;
- Residence of Shaykh Ahmad Balaghi Kadhimini who Shaykh Muhammad Jawad Balaghi from Najaf is of this family;
- Aal Mudhaffar who Shaykh Muhammad Hasa Mudhaffar, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Mudhaffar, and Shaykh Muhammad Ridha are of this family;
- Residence of Sayyid Haydar who Sayyid Mahdi Haydari, who is of the great academics and jurists of Iraq of the earlier centuries who called people to fight (jihad) against England, in the first world, is of this family;
- Residence of Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Khalisi who is related to Ali bin Madhahir the brother of Habib bin Madhahir and Ayatullah Shaykh Mahdi Khalisi, was considered and jurists during his time, is of this family;
- Residence of Shibr who is a decedent of Sayyid Abdullah Shibr, a Shi‘a scholar and owns many written works;
- Residence of Sayyid Ismaeel Sadr;
- Residence Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Aal Yasin who is one of the residence in Najaf and Kadhimayn.
The Islamic Seminary of Samarra
The beginning of the growth and development of academia in the city of Samarra and its significance as one of the main academic centers in the Shi‘a world is simultaneous with the arrival of Imam Hasan al- Askari to this city. Imam Hadi’s twenty-year presence in Samarra made it the center of attention amongst the Sh‘ia from all regions of the Islamic society. Meanwhile, Imam Hadi, through adopting specific methods, personally meeting with specific confidants, and writing to his representatives and agents (wakil) who from four major regions in which Shi‘as were gathered – Baghdad, Mada’in, and Kufa; Basrah and Ahwaz; Qum and Hamedan; and Hijaz and Yemen, he would respond to religious questions and issue Divine knowledge.
Other than containing guidelines to the Shi‘as’ political responsibilities and alerting them of the political situation of the society and rulers of the time, these correspondence contained ideological and theological questions and answers; as the Shi‘a center held intellectual guidance and responding the Shi‘a people’s ideological needs with importance. For example, there was correspondence between Muhammad bin Ali Kashani and Imam Hadi in regards to the doctrine of Oneness [of God] (tawhid) and the Imam’s response to a question regarding the topic of determinism (jabr) and full power (tafwidh).
The school of Imam Hadi (maktab) held the following curriculum:
1) The study of the Qur’an
2) Shi‘a theology
3) the culture of supplication (dua) and pilgrimage (ziyarah), and
4) holding a definitive stance against political and religious enemies.
Given the incident of some type of Sufis during the time of Imam Ali al-Naqi, who drew people away from political participation and true worship, with issuing the culture of supplication and pilgrimage and with the genuine Shi‘a gnosticism, the Imam fought oppression and identified the enemies, and reminded the people of the importance of loving the family of the Prophet (Ahl-ul Bayt).
After the martyrdom of Imam Ali al-Naqi in 254 AH, Imam Hasan al- Askari took on the imamate and leadership of the people (ummah). However, because of the extreme restrictions in the political atmosphere, the strengthening of the Mahdaviat, and monitoring the Imam’s interactions and correspondence, his presence in Samarra was as influential as the time of his father in expanding Shi‘a knowledge and divine understanding.
During the time of Imam al-Mahdi and the period of the minor occultation, since this city had made the Abbasid ruler sensitive towards it, the Imam’s special deputies resided in the city of Baghdad; this very act made Baghdad the center of attention, making Samarra less central.
The revitalization and recentralization of the Islamic Seminary of Samarra is due to the very capable and distinguished jurist and soldier of his time, Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi’s migration to Samarra.
Ayatullah al-Uzma Haj Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi, who after the passing of Shaykh Ansari in 1281 AH, he took on the authority and leadership of the Shi‘as. In 1287 AH, he was honored to go to Mecca for pilgrimage where he initially intended to live next to the Holy Prophet, but after visiting the city of Najaf he decided to move to Samarra which during that time the population was predominantly Sunni. In Sha’ban of 1290 AH, he migrated to Samarra. With Mirza Shirazi’s migration to Samarra, after many years the Islamic seminary of this city once again returned to its academic status and became a center for teaching and training those seeking Islamic sciences and knowledge taught by the Ahlul-Bayt.
Allamah Muhaqqiq Shaykh Aghabozorg Tehrani, in his al-Dhari’ah, reports the number of Mirza Shirazi’s students – who also did research in his seminary – to be over five hundred.
The method and format of Mirza Shirazi’s teaching in Samarra, inspired by Shaykh Ansari’s the method of ijtihad, made the spirit of research and academic criticism strengthen in his students and seminarians; and his calm composure in listening to the students’ views and giving them courage to present their opinions and participate in debates and discussions, he presented a new method in educating and teaching seminaries, and this became a well-known method in the Seminary of Samarra.
One of the important achievements in Shi‘a history where the seminary of Samarra and Mirza Shirazi himself played a role was in the termination of the agreement that would place all tobacco products at the disposal of British companies. This crucial measure taken was due to Mirza Shirazi’s historical issue – otherwise known as the tobacco boycott – which resulted in preventing the colonizers from getting their hands on Iran’s national wealth and revealing the power and influence of the Shi‘a jurists to the world.
Mirza Shirazi passed away in 1312 AH at the age of 82, and after being moved to the city of Najaf, he was buried in the holy shrine of Ali bin Abi Talib (as). The Islamic seminary of Samarra continued its academic progress; and with the guidance and management of some of Mirza’s top students including Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi and Sayyid Hasan Sadr, they continued to educate seminarians and publish the knowledge taught by the Ahlul-Bayt (s).
However, the seminary of Samarra’s expansion, after the passing of Mirza Shirazi was short-lived, and after the migration of great scholars like Muhammad Taqi Shirazi and Sayyid Hasan Sadr to Karbala and Kadhimiyya, the Samarra seminary’s period of decline arrived. In the recent years, to revive the Islamic seminary of Samarra, the largest Islamic and academic center was constructed adjacent to the shrine of the two Imams (Askarayn) and in the remaining area of Mirza Shirazi’s seminary under the supervision of the administration of religious leaders.
The selection taken from “Major Shia Islamic Seminaries” by Iman Khoshro.